In Recovery, I’m A Dopeless Hope Fiend
My name is Adam and I’m a person in recovery. I come from what I believe to be a normal family. My mother divorced my biological father when I was 5, due to his drug use. She remarried not too long after. I firmly believe my addictive traits were passed to me by my father.
When I was 10, my father moved to Colorado from Connecticut with his new family. I was devastated. At 12, I took my first drink and smoked my first cigarette and at 13, I tried marijuana. I loved it. At 15, I tried crack for the first time. I never looked back. I smoked crack all through high school. Amazingly, I graduated.
I was a heavy drug user all through my twenties. I had two failed attempts at rehab. When I was 30, I tried heroin for the first time and I was in love. At 33, I became an IV heroin user. This is when everything changed. For the next three years, heroin was all I cared about. I ruined every relationship and every job. I had no friends and my mother was the only family member speaking to me. I stole from almost everyone I came in contact with and ended up living in my truck for the last year of my drug use.
On June 4, 2017, I decided it was enough. With one bag of heroin left, no home, no gas, no friends, and no money I asked for help. It was the best decision I’ve ever made. I entered a detox, then an inpatient program, and finally a sober house. Instantly, my life got better. I finally wanted to be in recovery. No one was forcing me to do it. I surrendered.
Almost 15 months, later here I am. I have a beautiful girlfriend, apartment, and cars. I’m a father figure. My family relationships are stronger than ever, and most importantly I work a program of recovery. It’s a 12 Step program that I am very honest and open about. The one thing I have learned since getting into recovery is that I do not have to use. No matter what. I realize that life happens. Every day isn’t going to be rainbows and butterflies. And that’s okay.
I’m able to weigh the pros and cons of my actions. When it comes to drug use, there are no pros. Only cons. Knowing that I’m not unique and there are others going through the same things as me allows me to make it through tough situations. Most of the time, it only takes a phone call to deal with what I’m going through.
My drug use caused a lot of harm and hurt a lot of people, but it also made me very strong. I believe that if you can beat heroin, you can do anything.
My life of addiction brought me to a lot of places where I saw a lot of pain. That’s why I do my best today to give back. I volunteer very often. I’m a member of my program’s subcommittee for hospitals and institutions. We go into rehabs, detoxes, and prisons to speak with people with substance use disorder. I try to get involved with every organization I can to promote substance use prevention and recovery.
I simply try to give back what was freely given to me. Hope. I dedicate a lot of my time trying to convince addicted people to not give up. To ask for help. To know that recovery is possible. I’m living proof. It is my goal and dream to have a career working with others that suffer from addiction and with at-risk youth. When it comes to addiction, recovery is literally a matter of life and death.
If I could change anything, it would be the way that people with substance use disorder are viewed. We are not monsters.
I will never give up hope. I will continue to help the still sick, suffering person as long as I live. I feel it is my calling.
Oregon Recovers, By The Numbers
Data is a valuable asset, but it doesn’t necessarily give a complete picture of the national drug epidemic. Every year, SAMHSA releases its annual National Survey On Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). The study tracks substance use, mental health issues, and negative health outcomes in the populations it surveys. However, an Oregon advocacy group is suggesting that we need to be tracking more than just overdoses. NSDUH has never included questions related to the most positive outcome of having a substance use disorder—recovery from it.
A recent op-ed by Brent Canode, Executive Director of the Alano Club of Portland and co-founder of recovery advocacy group Oregon Recovers, pointed out that recovery isn’t the absence of addiction. It’s the presence of wellness.
The op-ed, which appeared in STAT earlier this month, makes an important point about recovery, which is that it’s a real, possible outcome for some people with substance use disorder. “Losing sight of that can skew public policy and funding priorities to narrowly focus on preventing deaths instead of aiming more broadly to both reduce unnecessary deaths and promote long-term wellness,” Canode said. Robert Ashford, PhD, and another writer contributed to the op-ed.
To fill in the blind spot, Oregon Recovers will partner with Oregon’s state Public Health Division to measure recovery rates biannually. To do this, they’ll use the Adult Behavioral Risk Survey (BRFSS). This survey is done between states and the federal government, in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is an ongoing data collection program designed to measure behavioral risk factors in the adult population. Health departments use the data for a variety of purposes, including identification of regional and demographic variations in health-related behaviors, targeting services, addressing critical health issues, proposing legislation for health initiatives, and measuring progress toward state and national health objectives.
BRFSS gathers uniform, state-specific data on preventive health practices and risk behaviors that are linked to chronic diseases, injuries, and preventable infectious diseases in the adult population. It isn’t perfect: data is collected over the phone, and excludes populations that are under 18 or homeless. However, according to the 2000 Census, 98.4 % of Oregon households have telephones, which means that the state is an excellent fit for this method of survey. The big win is adding recovery outcomes: a significant step toward refocusing anti-addiction efforts on recovery instead.
Oregon Recovers was created in response to Oregon’s place as last in the nation for access to recovery services. Although substance use is not a new problem in Oregon, it was recently declared a public health crisis thanks to the efforts of recovery advocates. Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed an executive order that declared addiction a public health crisis. Studying addiction as a local or regional issue is important to understanding how Oregon can recover.
Quit Judging, Start Recovering
I am a person in recovery from alcohol. I will always live with this. This is me.
It took me plenty of hospital stays, detoxes, jails, and treatment centers to realize the severity of my addiction. It cost me my job, house, and cars. I even lost custody of my son for nine months. My life was consumed by the alcohol I was drinking.
Nothing positive comes into your life when you are struggling with substance use disorder. I am going on my fourth year in recovery and I have completely turned around from the way I used to be and how I used to I think. I got my son back, got my own place, and paid off my jail stays and probation fees. Now, I sponsor other women in recovery and help chair meetings. I became an active member of this nation, for once. I am about to graduate from college. I’m the first in my family to do so.
The things that help me get to the next day is looking back on what and where I don’t want to be again. Looking at my child, who is my world, it hurts to know that back then, even he couldn’t stop me from using. Now, he can. I had to realize that I can’t make the issues I’m dealing with disappear by drinking. It just makes those problems worse. I can keep going in my recovery because there are people who are willing to help me get through. Those are good enough reasons for me.
The best part is that people in recovery are willing to help another. We care about helping the person who is suffering or just needs to talk. I sponsor great people who now have a positive outlook on life, like I do myself. Bad days come and go: they will always be there. What helps is having the tools to get to the next 24 hours.
One of the biggest things I struggle with now is when I notice outsiders being biased or judgy toward a newcomer or a person in recovery. What helps me get through that? I have to remind myself that they are not like us. They haven’t been educated enough about substance use disorder. And they haven’t walked in our shoes. So let them be, and just be proud of yourself.
If I could change one thing about addiction, it would be the stigma that keeps people from getting help. I wish others who haven’t been through it could understand we need the treatment we get and the people who help us. I wish we did not live in a nation of judgemental disagreements, but in a nation of understanding.
I wouldn’t change what I’ve been through because honestly, it made me, me.
Young, Smart, & Musical – Teens Make Music Matter
Facing Addiction with NCADD is excited to partner with MusiCares to support the ninth annual MusiCares® Teens Make Music Contest. The contest challenges young people to create an original song and/or music video that celebrates life without alcohol or other drugs and brings attention to the real-life consequences of substance misuse.
The contest is open to people aged 14-18. The first-place winner gets two tickets to the GRAMMY Awards in Los Angeles and can attend the celebration gala afterward. Other winners will get to see the Vans Warped Tour and enjoy other prizes. The contest is judged by well-known musicians, producers, and icons. Past judges include Kevin Lyman (Founder and Producer, Vans Warped Tour), Brad Smith (Artist, Blind Melon and Abandon Jalopy), Mark Kendall (Artist, Great White), Gavin Lurssen (GRAMMY Award-winning Engineer), Dave Krusen (Artist, Pearl Jam and Candlebox), Pete Fisher (President of the ACM), Tom DeSavia (Concord Music Group), Kevin Griffin (Vocalist, Better than Ezra; Songwriter/Producer, Founder/Producer of Pilgrimage Music Festival), Jen Czeisler (Owner, Rogue Octopus, President of Luna Music) and Christopher Thorn (Producer/Guitarist, Awolnation).
MusiCares is a four-star charity and safety net for music people in need. The group was established by the Recording Academy to safeguard the health and well-being of the music community by providing confidential preventative, recovery, and emergency programs to address financial, medical, and personal health issues.
Greg Williams, Executive Vice-President of Facing Addiction with NCADD, said, “We are thrilled to work with MusiCares and recognize talented young musicians for their creative interpretation on the impact of addiction in our homes, communities, and country. The Teens Make Music Contest serves as an outlet for these young musicians to highlight alternative lifestyles that do not include the use of alcohol or other drugs.”
Although punk music and straight-edge bands have supported substance-free lifestyles for decades, mainstream artists often glamorize substance use. Alcohol and drug use is normalized by every genre of music, from country to crunk. MusiCares® Teens Make Music Contest offers an opportunity to celebrate another way of life in a way that is meaningful, respectful, and cool. Considering that teenagers are considered the most susceptible demographic for developing substance use disorder, lifting up young voices in the fight against addiction is crucial. Recovery is a value that everyone can share, regardless of age.
The messages this contest promotes are critical ones to deliver to young people, and are truly significant when they are delivered by their peers. We are proud to be once again offering this important contest, and to be partnering with Facing Addiction with NCADD for the first time,” said Neil Portnow, President/CEO of MusiCares and the Recording Academy™.
Original music compositions or compositions with accompanying videos must be sent to MusiCares postmarked no later than December 15, 2018. Entries must be no more than four minutes and they must include lyrics. For more information and to enter the contest, please visit www.facingaddiction.org/take-action/teens-make-music-contest.
“Cover Photo by Gavin Whitner“
Recovering Women Deserve Healthy Relationships
Substance use disorder is complex issue that affects people in different ways. However, some factors, such as traumatic experiences or genetic predisposition can influence whether or not someone will become addicted. There’s another major influencer as well: relationships. Women are more likely to develop substance use disorder when they’re in relationships with men who are already addicted.
According to Gulf News, women often find that substance use is the price they pay for staying in relationships. Amal Al Fuqaie, a rehabilitation specialist at the Anti-Narcotics Department in Dubai, works closely with people with substance use disorder. She estimated that about 80 percent of cases of addicted women she has witnessed is because of their relationship with addicted men.
She said, “There are many reasons behind women’s addiction in Dubai like bad friends, social media and marriage disputes, but the main reason is their relationship with male addicts. Women are being deceived into addiction because of it.”
Substance use and intimacy issues are often linked—though, according to Psychology Today, women are more likely to relate addiction to relationships. Women tend to complete treatment successfully, and are more optimistic about their odds of staying abstinent. “However, because their problematic adult history of intimate relationships, sexuality, and dating was either not dealt with or written off as something to be handled later, these women were ill-prepared for the challenges of ongoing real-world sobriety. In short, their shame and secrets regarding past and present sexual and relationship oriented behaviors were left unaddressed, as was education about how they might be able to handle/tolerate/manage sex and intimate relationships in sobriety without relapsing.”
Sexual relationships seem to have a disproportionately negative effect on women who are struggling with addiction. Although substance use disorder is an “equal opportunity” illness, women bear an unequal burden. Socially, economically, and biologically, women are usually dealing with a very different deck of cards than men. Typically, women progress from first use to dependence more quickly than men. When women do develop drug dependence, they report problems of greater severity and experience more health-related consequences. Trying to exit addiction, women also face more barriers to recovery than men. The long-term effects of substance use may linger for women, even after they’ve achieved recovery. A woman’s addiction affects her entire family; the same isn’t always true for men.
According to NCADD, Women are “more likely to live with their children and to have to navigate the child welfare system. Addicted women are more likely than their male counterparts to have sexual and physical abuse histories, and women are twice as likely as men to suffer from mood disorders such as depression along with their addiction, which affects treatment outcomes.” Anecdotally, women often attribute relapse to intimate relationships. They used because their partner used, or because of some stress in the relationship.
Women may be ‘set up’ for addiction from an earlier age, as well. NCADD says, “The pathways leading to drug addiction differ for men and women and the beginning of women’s drug-using careers are often related to their relationships with men. Research has also shown that at least 70 percent of women drug users have been sexually abused by the age of 16, and most of these women had at least one parent who abused alcohol or drugs.”
Relationships can trigger mental health issues, which means that someone with many triggers has a higher risk for recurrence of use than someone with fewer triggers. Being a woman, it seems, is a built-in trigger for substance use. Seeking relationships that value recovery, finding support, and connecting with resources to leave abusive partners are all key for women who seek sustained recovery. Healthy partners make healthy partnerships. When women recover, everyone benefits.
My Kids Still Believe In Me
My name is Amber and I’m a person in recovery. I was 13 years old when I became addicted. I’ve always been the black sheep of my family. I felt like an outcast growing up and still sometimes do, when it comes to the way certain family members treat me. They don’t understand that addiction is not a choice. Nobody wants to be an “addict.”
Addiction runs deep in my family. I grew up loving people with substance use disorder, both in and out of my family. My mother suffers from alcoholism, addiction, and many other mental illnesses. As a result of her disease, my sisters and I were raised by other members of my family. My mother was abusive. From what I remember, she was rarely sober when I was a child. I never understood why she was so violent and why she didn’t want us in her life.
Then, God did for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves. He put my aunt in my life and she raised us as best she could. My uncle, who was my father figure since I’d never met my biological father, got very ill when I was 13. He had a stroke, and my family blamed it on me. At the time, I didn’t understand what a stroke was. I didn’t know that nobody could cause one. I internalized what my family said and believed them. I blamed myself, too. This created a rift in my family dynamic.
I started drinking heavily and was a blackout drinker from the start. I also smoked marijuana every day as well. My behaviors spiraled out of control and I became very rebellious and promiscuous. I didn’t know that I was using drugs and sex as a coping mechanism.
My addiction progressed. When I was 18, I was introduced to crack cocaine and opiates. I was addicted to cocaine for two years before I met the man who is the father of my children. I got pregnant two months into our relationship and by the grace of God, I was able to stop using for my entire pregnancy.
Shortly after I gave birth, my substance use disorder resurfaced. I became addicted to painkillers that the doctor prescribed me while I was recovering from childbirth. I used almost every day. Then, when my oldest child was two, we learned that I was pregnant again.
Again, by the grace of God I was able to stop using drugs for another nine months. After giving birth to my second child, I was prescribed to painkillers again. This time, my addiction really took off.
I was “functioning,” which means I lived in denial of my problem and the severity of it. In 2014, I was introduced to heroin and began using it every day. I went to treatment in 2016 after intravenously using heroin for four months.
I was able to stay abstinent, but after four months, my children were removed from my care because my counselor made false accusations to Child Protective Services. I relapsed shortly after my children were taken away.
Since then, I have completed quite a few treatments and have learned a lot about my disease.
I am still fighting to get my children back. Today, I am proud to say that I am abstinent and in recovery, which is a miracle and a blessing.
My children have suffered tremendously because of my addiction and so has my family, but my babies have never stopped believing in me. Some days, that is what keeps me going when nothing else can. God has truly blessed me and continues to do so every day.
I have come to realize that I am not a bad mother but a sick mother and I will never give up fighting for my children or to overcome my addiction.
There is hope for us that are addicted, as well as our families. Never lose hope. My life is changing thanks to the grace of God and I am forever grateful.
If you have a loved one that is battling addiction, I urge you to never give up on them. There is hope. If you are fighting for your children, don’t give up. You can do this! To everyone out there that is fighting, keep going!
The lie is dead! We do recover.
Being True To Yourself Is Winning
My journey with addiction started well before I ever put a substance into my body.
When I was about 5 years old, my parents started using in front of me, openly. My father used to wake me up at all hours of the night and make me hitchhike miles and miles with him so he could smoke crack. He said he would get a ride faster because I was with him, and people would feel sympathetic when they saw a child by the side of the road.
My personal experience with substances started when I was 10. When I was 12, my father pressured me into trying crack cocaine. From that moment on, I would never be the same person again.
Growing up I have had to deal with some pretty severe mental health conditions. I was molested as a toddler by a male family member which caused multiple mental health issues. On top of that, I got picked on by my peers due to not having nice things or my father being in jail. I started going to juvenile hall at age 11. In high school, I was sent to prison for 6 years for distribution charges and firearms.
I continued to use inside and as soon as I got out, my use progressed rapidly. It took me a mere 11 months to be incarcerated again. I was released almost five years later.
I continued to have problems with addiction and unhealthy relationships. In 2016, I began a relationship with my childhood sweetheart who is now my wife. She gave me a reason to want to change. She showed me what a normal life looks like and how it feels to be loved and cared about. She stands behind me and genuinely cares about me as a person in the decisions I make.
What I do affects me, my wife, and our newborn daughter as well.
Although my wife is supportive of me, it still isn’t enough. I continue to struggle with recovery. My latest relapse landed me in detox, this May. Since then, I have been growing stronger by the day. I’ve gotten help by seeking mental health treatment, along with substance abuse therapy.
It’s still not easy but it is getting easier. I have noticed it’s a lot harder to deal with life‘s problems when you’re not able to block it out with a substance. It’s also difficult for people to understand addiction who have never been there themselves.
The most important thing to remember, in my opinion, is to keep fighting and never give up the battle. If you relapse, don’t look at it as a sign of failure or an excuse to give up. Use it as a learning tool. It’s not the end of the world and it doesn’t mean that you can’t do it. It just means the way you were trying didn’t work. Try another way!
As long as you are trying and being true to yourself, you are winning.
Substance use disorder is an incurable disease, though people can learn to live with it and control it. People like me will always have substance use disorder, even if our addiction isn’t active.
There is hope for anyone with a desire to get into recovery. If you’d asked me five years ago if I ever thought I would come as far as I have, I would’ve laughed in your face and asked you for a hit of what you were smoking! But through love, guidance, and the desire to be healthy, I’ve become a better person, a better father, a better husband, and a better version of myself.
That gives me the strength to continue to fight. No matter what happens, no matter how many times I fall, I will get back up.
Catch The Wave of Recovery
12 Steps? Get SMART? Try hanging 10. Using a surfboard, the waves, and recovery support, surf therapy is helping people with substance use disorder find their balance.
According to Surfer Today, addiction therapists found that surf therapy, which is also known as ocean therapy, can help treat substance abuse disorders and other, co-existing disorders linked with addiction. Carly Rogers, an occupational therapist, studied the effects of surfing as a psychotherapy on more than 400 war veterans through a program she started with the Jimmy Miller Foundation.
Rogers noted that special needs children thrived in response to ocean therapy. While completing her Master’s in Occupational Therapy at University of Southern California, Rogers created a therapy program for children recovering from abuse. Rogers said, “Having worked as a Los Angeles County Lifeguard for the past nine years, and instructing children in ocean safety for the last seven, I have been able to witness the therapeutic effects of surfing. I’ve seen children jump out of wheelchairs, trying to get to the water’s edge. Now imagine the impact of being able to actually ride a wave?”
Rogers adapted the ocean therapy program to help adults, and found that it was effective in helping them recover from substance use disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), depression, and other life-threatening injuries. Rogers extended the program to Marines and war veterans. It now runs about 60 sessions a year in Manhattan Beach, Calif., and farther south at Camp Pendleton and has served over 400 veterans.
Veterans have high rates of substance use disorder, although it’s slightly lower than the national average. According to the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 1.5 million veterans aged 17 or older (6.6 percent of this population) had a substance use disorder in the past year. Overall, about 1 in 15 veterans had a past year substance use disorder, whereas the national average among persons aged 17 or older was about 1 in 11, or 8.6 percent. Ocean therapy can help people cope with multiple mental health issues at once, and is ideal for veterans or other people who may be recovering from physical injuries as well.
Surfer Today says that ocean therapy is effective in treating addiction because of the nature of surfing. It’s a physical, mental, and emotional challenge and pushes surfers to get out of their comfort zones. “Getting on a surfboard translates to increased confidence. The physical challenges associated with surfing are similar to the mental and emotional affairs patients try to avoid during addiction.” The therapist leading the session guides the person to process their experiences.
Rogers said in her Ted Talk that surfing offers “infinite possibilities to heal.” From substance use disorder to co-existing issues such as PTSD, physical limitations, and depression, the ocean can be a source of healing. Surfing, as therapy, is yet another treatment modality that can help people recover—and find new horizons within themselves.
Dental Care Represents Huge Gap in Recovery Services
Addiction is An Illness With Bite. To Recover, We Need Healthcare That is More Than Skin Deep.
Dental care is an overlooked but critical recovery service. Sustained recovery can erase track marks, jaundice, and abscesses. Teeth, however, don’t rebound easily from regular exposure to substances like alcohol or heroin.
Oral health may be the key to help people with substance use disorder reenter society. But many struggle to make dental care a priority: it’s a complex problem, complicated by factors that hinder access to dental care.
Most treatment for addiction emphasizes intervention, not long-term support like dental care. Substance use disorder is most commonly treated in its acute stages. Prevention focuses on overdose prevention, not whole person care. In the current model, any care beyond immediate, life-threatening issues is not well defined.
Jessie Glenn, a board member at Oregon Health and Science University’s Richmond Family Medicine Clinic in Portland, Oregon, said, “Dental care is one of the hardest things for low-income people to access and people struggling with addiction often need it the most. Dental care needs to be a priority. People can die of abscesses. There are obviously a host of issues that plague people with substance abuse issues, but prioritizing physical health, safety, and the promise of support is a good starting place.”
The Richmond location is a safety net clinic that serves a high-risk, low income population. Most patients, Glenn says, pay very low fees for services. Many services are free. The goal is not only providing affordable dental care, but also changing the healthcare model to patient-centered care, which includes oral and dental health.
For people in recovery, staying sober is the priority. Dental care often comes last on the recovery to-do list because it is too expensive, hard to find, or simply not as important as other needs, like paying rent or going back to school.
Broken teeth and advanced tooth decay are commonly reported dental issues for people with substance use problems. Substances like heroin, meth, and cocaine are cut with corrosive ingredients that actually melt the enamel off your teeth, leaving blackened stumps. Smoking crack can make your teeth brittle, and stain them as yellow as a wolf’s.
With good insurance, some people repair their teeth with little out-of-pocket cost: one person, after a decade of drug use, was able to get crowns on all his top teeth a decade ago. He estimated that the crowns cost $2,000 each. The entire procedure was $28,000. Now, those crowns have started to show signs of wear, so he’s thinking of switching to implants—which will cost thousands more.
For many, undergoing the treatment process is prohibitive for people who can’t have opioid painkillers. Invasive procedures like fillings, crowns, bone grafts, and implants require pain management. For some people, refusing medication is a principle: they refuse any mind-altering “solids, liquids, or gases.” For others, it’s a precaution against reawakening their addiction. They’ll avoid anything that may put their recovery at risk, including care that will improve life in the long run.
Yet, the consequences of not repairing substance-related tooth damage are serious, too. In addition to ongoing oral health problems, a person with severely damaged teeth misses out on social benefits, too. A 2012 study showed a strong correlation between a healthy-looking smile and better social status. 73 percent of Americans say they’re “more likely to trust someone with a nice smile than someone with a good job, outfit, or car.” The same study showed Americans perceive people with straight teeth as 45 percent more likely to get a job, when competing with someone who has a similar skill set and experience but crooked teeth.
Feelings of shame were linked, in another recent study, to depression and addiction. Severely damaged teeth, or an appearance that evokes drug use, can lower self esteem and actually lead to a relapse.
Dr. Beverlee Cutler, Dental Director at OHSU’s Russell Street Clinic, said, “The decayed or damaged teeth are a visible identifier of past bad choices. The person may feel shame or grief. They might have had braces or expensive dental work in the past, and feel embarrassed at having to get teeth pulled,” Cutler said. “We see a lot of the classic ‘meth mouth,’ with black decay at the gum line. You know immediately from the appearance and health of the teeth that there’s a history of substance abuse.”
Cutler said, “To repair years of damage, the treatment plan is going to mean lots of appointments. We don’t just fill holes. The first cleaning will take four visits. After that, it’s one appointment for temporary fillings, and then another four to six appointments for permanent fillings, or a partial or bridge. The person must follow through and do their part. They have to be willing to work on their oral hygiene every day, just like they work on their recovery.”
Every person who’d undergone extensive dental repairs said that pain is worth it. The promise of a new life, and a chance to start over, they said, was priceless. With luck, and persistence, the investment in a new smile—and their hard-won sobriety—will last a lifetime.
Cutler said, “Our approach is like the 12 Steps. Getting people in the chair is the first step. Until someone’s ready to take ownership, the best dentist in the world can’t help them.” That first step is often the biggest, for people in recovery. Yet, for those who stay the course and have access to dental care, the rewards can be significant.
Family, Addiction, & Recovery
As a child, I didn’t quite understand addiction. I didn’t understand what it meant to have an “alcoholic” parent, even though I had one. I would see my dad stumbling around, hear my parents arguing, or witness tears streaming down my dad’s face, but I didn’t understand what was going on. As I aged, I began to piece things together and eventually began to wrap my mind around the term “alcoholic”.
Every day was the same, my dad would drink and my parents would argue. When I was in elementary school I would have friends over, but eventually, I quit inviting them. The days of me inviting friends to come over and play or spend the night dissipated. I started secluding myself because I was embarrassed. I didn’t want anyone to see what was going on at home.
My dad would show up to various events for my brother or myself and he would be intoxicated and I would see other kids laughing. Eventually, I just started shutting down, keeping to myself a lot, and eventually using my dad’s drinking as a crutch and a burden. I became resentful and angry towards him because I felt like he cared more about drinking than getting to know me.
I felt lonely, helpless, and lost. He didn’t know how I was doing in school, what I wanted to go to college for, or even my favorite color. When I went off to school, I finally felt like I could be myself. No one knew what my family situation was and I felt free. Fast-forward years later, a move to Oklahoma and back to Georgia, and I started to realize how much anger I had been harboring towards my father.
I recognized just how much his addiction had shaped me into the woman I had become. I had been getting involved in toxic relationships that were reminiscent of how my father and his drinking made me feel…not good enough. I kept trying to fix…everyone. It was upon my return to Georgia that I decided to really delve into addiction and how it shapes the addict along with family members. It was through this research that I was able to sit down with my father and explain how his actions molded me.
His marriage with my mother unraveled after 31 years, his children had been foreigners and I wanted him to understand that even though things had fallen apart, that didn’t mean we couldn’t rebuild in a better way. I was able to explain how embarrassing it was for me as a child and that I was planning to take this year as Miss Southeast International to devote my platform to addiction.
My platform is Addressing Addiction: Prevention, Recuperation, and Restoration of Families, because I want to build a better relationship with my father, I want to help those who feel just as lonely as I did growing up, and I want to show people that addiction in your family doesn’t have to be a hindrance, rather a stepping stone to a better future. I’ve learned that instead of being angry, I can be empathetic and understanding. Opening the lines of communication is a step in the right direction, not just for my relationship with my father, but also for him as a person. We all need someone sometimes and it’s important to let those in your life know that they have your support.
Jada Pinkett Smith & Family on Addiction Recovery
In a powerful, moving episode of her show Red Table Talk, Jada Pinkett Smith interviewed her mother Adrienne Banfield Norris about her 20-year heroin addiction. Special guest August Alsina, and Will Smith’s youngest sister, Ashley Marie also joined Jada. The guests shared candidly about how they have faced addiction and how their illness affected their loved ones.
The stigma of addiction made it incredibly difficult to seek help or be honest about her struggles, Adrienne said. Now in recovery for 27 years, Adrienne said that her multiple decades of substance use disorder alienated her friends and family. She said that she didn’t start out trying to get sober for herself: she did it for a partner. Later, Adrienne came to the understanding that she was worth it for herself.
“Sometimes, it takes something outside of us,” Jada said. The motivation for seeking help for addiction doesn’t matter, she emphasized. Anything can work, and the important part is taking the first step toward a healthier life.
Adrienne, who Jada calls ‘Gammie,’ was in tears as she expressed her gratitude for the presence of God in her life. As a mother and a woman, her recovery affects not only her family but her sense of self worth and her ability to “accept what God wanted to give her” for her life.
25-year-old R & B star August Alsina met Jada in London, where her children Jaden and Willow Smith were performing. August was struggling with opioids, and asked Jada for help. He’d blacked out at a show, fell off the stage, and hurt himself so severely that he was in a coma for three days. His heart stopped twice. After the accident, he was given an “endless supply” of Percocet to deal with the pain. Soon, the pills developed into an addiction, though August didn’t see himself as ‘an addict’ because he didn’t pawn his belongings, shake from withdrawal, or use crack cocaine.
In reality, August told Jada, he had a serious problem and needed a break. Despite his huge successes as a singer, August wasn’t able to stop using on his own. The Smith family joined him on his journey of recovery. August said he didn’t go to a rehab or clinic, but sat with himself and “made a decision” to get sober.
Will Smith’s youngest sister, Ashley Marie, was still deciding whether or not to give recovery a chance. She uses marijuana, but isn’t happy with the way the substance interferes with her ability to cope with life. She said, “I don’t want to get high one day and not be the best, and an opportunity is gone because I needed that moment of relaxation.”
The group discussed how the stigma of addiction is different for marijuana and other drugs. Adrienne, as a heroin user, faced a different stigma than August, who got his opioids from a doctor. Ashley agreed that marijuana was perceived as different. As a person who’s dealt with sex addiction, over-exercising, and unhealthy alcohol use, Jada said it wasn’t “what you’re doing, it’s why you’re doing it.”
“Really great people get caught up,” Jada said.
Red Table Talk emphasized the importance of reaching out and not trying to contend with the problem alone. Addiction, Jada said, runs all through her family. It’s more common than many people think, and takes many forms.
This powerful episode asked close friends and family to come to the table and share honestly about how substance use and recovery affect every aspect of life. For help, Jada asked that viewers reach out to Facing Addiction with NCADD for resources, support, and information about substance use disorder and recovery.
Stop Relapse By Changing Your Memory?
Substance use disorder is a chronic, relapsing mental illness. Relapse is very common in addiction treatment, with relapse rates being between 40 and 60 percent, according to NIDA. This rate is very similar to rates of relapse with other chronic diseases like hypertension, asthma, or type I diabetes. However, new research shows that it may be possible to avoid relapses with a treatment that alters the person’s memory.
Research published in Addiction Biology by scientists at the University of Bath (UK) shows that the memory plays a significant role in addiction relapse. The research focused on opioid use disorder, with substances such as morphine, heroin, and other opioid drugs. These extremely addictive substances carry a high mortality risk and can cause fatal overdoses.
The new research suggests that relapse is associated with sensory cues. Scientists found that memories of substance use and triggers associated with it, such as places, drug paraphernalia, the drug itself, or stress. This highlights the role memories play in relapse.
Researchers studied animal behavior to explore the relationship between environmental cues and morphine seeking behavior. Rats or mice learned to associate particular places, objects, or sensations with morphine. Then, the researchers removed the morphine and provided the cues again. The animals “relapsed” by showing morphine-seeking behavior in response to getting the cues.
The researchers tested the effect of a blocker of a specific receptor for acetylcholine — the alpha7 nicotinic receptor — to see if this might impair relapse. Acetylcholine is a brain neurotransmitter which is involved in memory processes. The blocker is called methyllycaconitine (MLA). It comes from delphinium plants and is shown to selectively block morphine relapse (but not the initial learning to seek drugs) in both mice and rats.
MLA affects the ventral hippocampus in the brain. According to Science Daily, “The hippocampus is well known for its role in memory, and the ventral domain is particularly associated with emotional memories, an obvious link to addiction pathways.”
Professor Sue Wonnacott, from the University of Bath’s Department of Biology & Biochemistry, said, “It’s an exciting step forward that links the cholinergic system, more commonly associated with nicotine addiction, with the mechanisms of relapse a different class of abused drug — the opioids. More work needs to be done to uncover the brain mechanisms involved, but it raises the prospect of erasing long-term drug-associated memories that underpin addiction and the propensity to relapse.”
Dr. Chris Bailey, from the University of Bath’s Department of Pharmacy & Pharmacology, commented, “Drug addiction is very poorly treated at present so this potential novel approach is very welcome. An important next step is to see if MLA blocks relapse to other abused drugs. We already have evidence, in the same animal model, that it is effective against the more potent opioid, heroin. If MLA has similar effects against other drugs of abuse such as cocaine it would be even more encouraging.”
Changing the way a person with substance use disorder responds to environmental cues and triggers, such as stress, may help them to avoid a relapse. This new research also shows that the mental component of substance use disorder can be treated effectively.
For Mental Wellness, Integrate Care
Many healthcare providers and substance use treatment facilities treat substance use disorder as an isolated issue. However, as clinical manager Brittany McCrady, MSW points out in her recent op-ed, “substance use and mental health issues are intertwined.”
A personalized path to recovery allows people to get help for more than one issue, which can be critical to sustaining recovery.
Substance use disorder often co-occurs with other mental health issues and the entire spectrum can be difficult to diagnose and treat. The symptoms or behaviors associated with substance use disorder can “mask” other mental health symptoms. For example, anxiety disorder might be hard to identify in a person who has an alcohol use disorder. Alcohol is a depressant, so long time, significant use of it may make the person seem depressed when in reality they have issues with anxiety. When the person’s alcohol use is alleviated through treatment and abstinence, the “depression” will go away, and the symptoms of anxiety will present themselves. A mental health issue can go undiagnosed for years, sometimes appearing after a significant time in recovery.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) estimates that 7.9 million people had both a mental health and substance use disorder in 2014. That’s a huge population of people, yet treatment often focuses on just one or the other. Treatment for co-occurring disorders needs to be more prevalent, if not the standard, said McCrady.
“A fully integrated medical, mental health, and substance use treatment model provides an individual with adequate resources and staff to screen, diagnosis and treat both mental health and substance use disorders,” she said. Looking at the whole person can help individuals find the right path to a personalized, integrated, recovery-oriented approach.
McCrady said that better, integrated care means that providers need to take a less narrow perspective and look for issues outside of substance use disorder. “This means treatment providers must meet individuals where they are and develop goals that are important to their recovery. Integrated care can stabilize the symptoms of co-occurring disorders, build up the individual’s recovery supports, and provide a foundation for lasting recovery.”
According to RAND Health, research supports that integrated care is the most effective treatment for individuals with co-occurring disorders. As substance use disorder is understood as a mental health issue, which may intersect with other disorders, we may improve access to care that creates better opportunities for sustained recovery.
A Daily Fight
The summer of 2016, I was been substance-free for six years. I was married to my best friend for also six years that March. He was incarcerated all of our marriage being out only long enough for me to get pregnant with our son, and at this time I already had our daughter who was three. This is a summer I will never forget.
I received the phone call my son’s 2nd birthday that my best friend since 2009 overdosed on heroin leaving behind her two young kids. It broke my heart, I did not know how to cope with such a loss. Her funeral was held on my birthday, another day I will never forget.
So many things were running through my head, why her? Why my best friend? What about her family? What about her babies? Though I had been substance-free for six years there were a couple times I relapsed and I always felt any one thing would make me use. My husband who was still incarcerated at this time, was not home for times like this when I needed him.
All of these events led to many arguments and us deciding we were going to get a divorce. I was left feeling like a failure, feeling I let my family down. Even though this exact event should have made me not want to use, it did the complete the opposite. I started using the end of that summer, to quiet down my head, my mind, and my thoughts. It was simple at first just at night before bed, just to help me sleep. That went on for a month or so, then that led to well maybe right after work and then before bed. Then morning, after work before bed. Eventually, it became something I was doing all day.
How could I have let myself get back in this? How could I let my babies down? At this point, I was not getting high to get high but to function normally. I was still working full time, just careless. I was too ashamed of what I had done yet again, after all that time substance-free, to ask for help again. I did not want my family to know, I mean they knew but I didn’t want to admit I was again a failure.
I tried to get help on my own in the fall of 2017, I was tired of that life, tired of being tired. I called rehab after rehab, treatment centers, methadone clinics, I called them all. I was turned down over and over again. Eventually, I lost my kids, my world was crashing down, I was dying and nobody could help me.
I started treatment at Open Arms, in Hanover PA doing the medication-assisted treatment plan in November, I was on Suboxone, and it saved my life. I have been substance-free since. It is not easy, but it is so worth it. I attend groups and individual sessions. I weaned myself off of Suboxone in February. I started college in February for my Bachelors in Psychology concentrating on Substance Abuse. I started regularly attending church. I am a better version of me that I have ever been, and I would not be where I am at today if those things would not have happened. I think of my best friend almost daily, but I remind myself what I am doing now is for her and me. I am still working on getting my kids back, I will not ever give up on them just like I won’t let anything interfere with my recovery. It is a hard battle and a daily fight but it can be done!
Broken Crayons Still Color
I am a woman who does not look like what she has been through.
I have yet to meet someone who has gone through what I have.
I’ve always believed that “broken crayons still color”.
I turned my tumultuous past into a great testimony!
I became heavily addicted to prescription painkillers in 2002 after a knee surgery before there was an “Opioid Epidemic”
I had never experimented with drugs ever in my life and quickly fell in love with how painkillers made me feel.
A doctor began prescribing me 100’s of painkillers, and shortly thereafter, my chase for the powerful pills would begin.
My sole goal became to seek as many doctors as I could to get prescriptions for pain pills.
I was very private some of the closest people to me had no idea that I had an addiction.
My life quickly turned upside down, and I lost friends, condos, apartments, vehicles, I sold all my beautiful clothes and jewelry.
I moved back with my parents, they didn’t understand what I was going through.
I would have very bad withdrawals and they just thought I was sick, but didn’t understand that the withdrawals were from me running out of painkillers.
For 11 years I heavily used painkillers. I isolated myself and hid my addiction.
In 2010 I ended my chase for prescription painkillers.
My father whom is a Pastor and my mother, prayed with me, I grew up in a very religious home, and was raised to have faith in God.
Miraculously in August of 2010, I got stopped cold turkey, and have been free since.
In 2014 I became a public figure when my story was published on the front page of a newspaper.
In the beginning, I was very scared, embarrassed and paranoid about my story making the front page of the newspaper.
Yet my healing grew the more I began sharing my story.
I believe that this journey is not one, that one can tackle without having FAITH and believing in a higher being.
I am now a Recovery Mentor becoming a licensed Interventionist.
I personally help people struggling with addiction, and have helped many individuals get into detox centers, and rehabilitation centers and providing support for their families.
I give them hope, because I’m living proof, that if you want your life back you can have it! You have to take one day at a time.
It’s not a walk in the park, and everything I went through was worth being able to save lives now.
I’m a community activist, who has worked with police departments going out into the schools and the community to share my story.
This is my passion.
One of the most important lessons that I’ve learned throughout my journey is “Not to STEREOTYPE People”, because I was addicted in silence for over a decade, and because I looked so wonderful on the outside, people never saw my cries for help, people very close to me couldn’t discern how heavy my heart was, how sad, lonely, and depressed I was.
I was near death, and when I came out on the other side, I learned that people are fighting for their lives, but don’t even look like it!
Never judge a book by its cover.
This opioid epidemic has turned into a pandemic, and it will only get worse, many more lives will be lost.
My wish list consists of doctors and Pharmaceutical companies being held responsible and held accountable for prescribing mass amounts of opioids.
Thank you for reading.
A Voice of Recovery
My substance use started in the 7th grade with marijuana and alcohol and quickly progressed to opiates by the 8th grade. At that point in my life substances gave me courage and what I thought was “swagger” or some sense of being cool. When I got into high school it no longer gave me that cool feeling because I was in the midst of full-blown addiction. I was being suspended from school, getting in fights, and breaking laws. This behavior continued when I was out of school and my addiction brought me to overdoses, homelessness, and jails for years to come.
By 2009 my life was completely unmanageable. I was physically sick. I felt that my life was not worth living anymore and the only thing that kept me alive day to day was my little girl who wasn’t even a year old at that time. On the 9th of September 2009, my addiction caught up with me and I was charged with multiple felonies for burglary. At that point, I felt almost a sense of relief. I felt I could not make the decision to stop on my own and an intervention from the law would help this time.
I had a choice to make, I could either continue down the road I was taking and probably die in prison or change my life for the better. I decided to make a change for the better. With my daughter as a driving factor, I worked hard to stay in recovery. I was accepted into the Washington County Drug Court program in Maine and for the first time in over a decade, I wasn’t using substances. I spent the next year doing everything that was asked of me by the courts and graduated the program. During that time I learned from treatment providers and support groups the skills that would help me in my recovery. My life started feeling more manageable and the sickness seemed to go away. I had a little peace and serenity and it felt really good.
Fast forward almost 9 years and my life has continuously gotten better. My life revolves around helping people in recovery and helping people find recovery. From my experiences, I know in my heart that there is hope and help for anyone that suffers from this disease. I will continue to help anyone that wants help. I will be a voice of recovery whenever there is one needed because I know it is possible.
I now have three wonderful children that give me a reason to live every day and a wife that shares a similar story of substance misuse and recovery. We live a life that is completely absent of any and all illicit substances and both work in fields that are geared towards prevention and substance use treatment. We both use our stories to try and break down stigmas regarding addiction and give hope to people that may be seeking recovery.
My wish would be to see more prevention in schools. My hope is that all children will have the resources and skills to never walk the path of substance misuse that I and so many others have walked.
Why Is It So Hard To Get Treatment?
A new study in the Journal of Addiction Medicine analyzes the obstacles people with substance use disorder face when seeking treatment. The study identified four major problems that widen the gap between the high demand for recovery support and limited access to substance use treatment in the United States.
Patient eligibility, treatment capacity, knowledge of treatment options, and communication were all cited as organizational-level barriers to treatment for substance use disorders.
According to News-Medical, the researchers “performed a series of interviews with 59 stakeholders in the treatment referral process. The study gathered input from those who make referrals for substance use treatment, including emergency medicine physicians, addiction specialists, and other medical providers; as well as those who receive referrals, including substance use treatment facility staff and administrators.” By focusing on organizational barriers, rather than patient experiences or treatment outcomes, the study was able to make practical recommendations for improvement.
Some of the recommendations included creating a database of clear eligibility criteria, providing real-time information on treatment capacity, and increasing education and training for providers on substance use treatment. They also focused on improving communication and reducing treatment waiting times, using new information technologies. The researchers write: “By improving systems that enhance communication across organizations, patient referrals may be more easily completed, improving access to care and expanding the use of appropriate treatments for the many patients in need.”
A recent Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) report found that of 21.7 million Americans in need of substance use disorder treatment, only 2.35 million received treatment at a specialty facility. It is clear that the population in need isn’t the issue: treatment facilities and the providers who refer patients to them do not have organizational guidelines for communicating with providers who make referrals for substance use treatment, including emergency medicine physicians, addiction specialists, and other medical providers.
Organizational dysfunction makes it difficult for people to receive care, especially continuous care or help from multiple specialists. In an accompanying commentary, David L. Rosenbloom, PhD, of Boston University School of Public Health, said that referrals for other chronic diseases “may be more effective because they are to ‘in-house’ affiliated providers.” Dr. Rosenbloom writes: “The standard of care should be to stabilize, initiate treatment, and provide a hands-on transfer to an entity that can complete a diagnostic assessment and provide evidence-based treatment” for patients with substance use disorders.
A standard of care that acknowledges organizational barriers to treatment is in patients’ best interest. Communication systems must be adapted to reflect our understanding of substance use disorder and the best ways to treat it.
A New 12-Step Group
A new 12-Step group called Medication Assisted Recovery Anonymous (MARA) supports people whose recovery includes medications like buprenorphine or methadone. Formed in response to stigma and discrimination in the rooms of other 12-Step groups, MARA is growing quickly.
According to Slate, the stigma against people with substance disorder persists even in the recovery community. People who do not use abstinence-only methods, and incorporate medications or harm reduction methods into their recovery, can face backlash from their community. Slate said, “patients with opioid use disorder frequently receive pressure from family members, 12-step groups, and outdated, punitive policies in treatment centers, recovery houses, and court systems to not take these medications at all, or to stop taking them before they’re ready, according to addiction specialists who treat them.”
MARA was formed in response to stigma against medication-assisted recovery (MAR). The issue isn’t the Steps, members say: it’s the breakdown in group traditions. Although fellowships like Alcoholics Anonymous have no opinion on “outside issues,” which includes medications and other medical issues like psychiatric care, the members of that fellowship may have personal prejudices against MAR. That can be problematic for people who need methadone to stay sober, but also need the support of a home group of other recovering people.
Also, not all fellowships have the same position on MAR. A 2016 pamphlet published by Narcotics Anonymous said, “By definition, medically assisted therapy indicates that medication is being given to people to treat addiction. In NA, addiction is treated by abstinence and through application of the spiritual principles contained in the Twelve Steps of Narcotics Anonymous.”
Opposition to MAR runs contrary to medical opinions and scientific research, which shows that medication is “undeniably the most effective treatment for opioid use disorder, according to the evidence. Research has repeatedly shown that these medications reduce opioid addiction–related deaths by 50 percent or more, increase treatment retention, and decrease infectious disease transmission and criminal activity.”
Since abstinence is not possible, inevitable, or even desirable for everyone, medication is one solution for people who need relief from substance use disorder. Dr. Sarah Wakeman, the medical director of the Substance Use Disorder Initiative at Massachusetts General Hospital, told Slate that much of the prejudice against people who use MAR is due to confusion between physiological dependence and addiction. Instead of comparing methadone with heroin, or saying that someone taking a prescribed, therapeutic dose of lorazepam for anxiety disorder, we need to understand substance use disorder as an illness.
“I think it’s heartbreaking because if a person had cancer or had any other chronic illness and they were valiantly managing it, people in their lives would be supporting them and encouraging them to take their medication every day to stay healthy. The need to keep it a secret or feel like it’s something shameful when people are doing really well on treatment is challenging and can really undermine someone’s recovery,” Wakeman said.
MARA meetings are growing in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Abilene, Texas and are reportedly well-attended, with 40 or more people at each group. The members said that they felt included and accepted. Medications varied from medical marijuana to prescribed painkillers to opioid treatments such as methadone.
MARA is not a program for people who want to continue using substances. The program’s literature states: “The first step to recovery is to want to change. When you start acting on the desire to stop using drugs you are in recovery. If you are using a medically-assisted method of recovery in strict co-operation with a medical professional and/or a counselor – you are in recovery. But, please do not self-medicate, follow the regiment you have worked out with the person or facility you are working with. We in M.A.R.A. consider a relapse to be: taking prescribed medicine not as directed, using another person’s prescribed medicine, or using other mood altering chemicals – whether that be: illegal street drugs or alcohol.”
MARA creates more options, and more recovery, for people with substance use disorder—and potentially saves more lives.
A Child’s Life Hangs In The Balance
Excerpt from: A CHILD’S LIFE HANGS IN THE BALANCE
by Katherine Ketcham
author of The Only Life I Could Save (Sounds True, Inc., April 1, 2018)
I sat in the corner of the pediatrician’s office listening to the doctor talk to my 18-year-old son.
“I understand you are here because your parents are concerned about your drug use,” she said. Her back was to me, and she spoke in a soft voice. I leaned forward to listen.
Ben must have nodded his head. She asked what drugs he used. Alcohol, but just on the weekends at parties. Marijuana, maybe once or twice a week. Cigarettes, but not very often, maybe one or two a day.
Liar! The word just slipped into my mind, and I immediately pushed it away, feeling ashamed of myself. What kind of a mother calls her son a liar? But still, he wasn’t telling the truth. He was, as we say in the addiction world, “minimizing,” “rationalizing,” “justifying.” Hadn’t he just confessed to me that he smoked weed every day, before school, at lunch, and after school?
Oh Benny, I thought, fighting back the tears, remembering the little boy who loved to snuggle with me, who giggled when we rubbed noses, who never failed to give me a kiss goodbye even in middle school—when did you change? When was the F word inserted in each and every sentence and sometimes between each and every word? When did you stop telling us how much you loved us and start shouting about how you hated everything, including your sisters—your sisters!—and how you couldn’t wait to get the hell out of this stupid house with our stupid rules and this stupid town with all its stupid people?
The doctor didn’t see the changes in you because they were hidden underneath the surface of a healthy-looking young man, nearly six feet tall and still growing, 185 pounds, freckles (oh, how I loved those freckles), polite, clean t-shirt tucked into his jeans, vital signs all normal. And that red hair. Where did he get that, I wondered for the hundredth time. Maybe from a grandparent, but on whose side and was it the same side where he got the genes that predisposed him to addiction? The doctor didn’t ask him about his family history, which was truly flabbergasting to me. Don’t doctors always want to know whether a parent, grandparent, or sibling has a disease that might have been passed along through a genetic inheritance? Ben’s father is an alcoholic in long-term recovery (30+ years), and that side of the family is riddled with alcoholism. But the doctor never asked those questions.
She asked about his grades. Good, he said, and now he was telling the truth because he got all As and Bs; his teachers loved him because he smiled a lot, handed in his assignments on time, and even though he was a goofball who loved to make people laugh with his funny faces and silly voices, he wasn’t disruptive; he was just a good kid. A good kid with a bad problem.
Well, she said, and in her voice, I could hear a reassuring smile, I don’t see a problem. I’m not worried about occasional marijuana use, but the drinking concerns me a bit—can you cut down? Sure, he said. No problem.
She shook his hand and thanked him for coming in. I followed behind them, my cheeks flushed with shame. If I had a tail, it would’ve been between my legs. Because I didn’t stand up and say in a firm, strong voice, “He’s not telling you the truth, and even if he is, occasional marijuana use is not okay for kids because their brains are developing, and he just told you he’s using three drugs EVERY WEEK, and YOU ARE NOT FUCKING CONCERNED ABOUT THAT?”
I was polite. I didn’t want to be the book-writing-author-know-it-all. I was intimidated by her—a doctor, after all. Sure, I write books about drugs and addiction, but I don’t have a PhD or MD after my name. But still, really, why do I know so much about addiction, and she doesn’t seem to know anything?
Ben and I drive home and don’t say a word to each other. His legs are jumpy, and his fingers tap tap tap his jeans. I know what he’s thinking: Wow, glad that’s over! Time to get high!
And I’m thinking, with a mixture of pain and shame and grief and guilt: When I needed an ally in this fight to help my son, what I got instead was a virtual prescription for him to continue using. I have never felt so alone in my life.
What happened next took my breath away. A few days later, I told the story of our doctor visit to the family support group in my town, and two mothers nearly jumped out of their chairs, both talking at the same time and speaking the same words: “That’s what happened to me!” We resolved, then, to do what we could to educate doctors about the epidemic of drug use in our town and the desperate need to listen to the parent’s side of the story. We’re not “over-reacting,” as some people think, nor are we “helicopter parents” or “enablers” or any of the other labels and diagnoses assigned to us. We’re reaching out for help because our children are at great risk.
Great risk. I do not exaggerate. Six of our children in this small group in our small town are now dead from drug-related causes: overdoses, infections, suicide, fatal accidents, gang violence. At some point in the trajectory of their young lives, a doctor, counselor, teacher, or friend might have intervened and possibly saved their lives.
That same week, I approached a pediatrician and asked if he would be willing to help us educate other doctors and health care professionals. He responded with honesty and humility. “I don’t know anything, really, about addiction, especially adolescent addiction, because it wasn’t part of my medical training. But I have two young children; I see the problems daily, and I’m willing to learn and ready to help.”
Katherine Ketcham has co-authored 17 books, 10 on the subject of addiction and recovery, including the New York Times bestseller “Broken: My Story of Addiction and Redemption,” with William Cope Moyers. Her latest book is “The Only Life I Could Save: A Memoir.” Ketcham has led treatment and recovery efforts at the Walla Walla Juvenile Justice Center in Washington State, and in 2009, she founded the Trilogy Recovery Community.
Where Does Addiction Come From?
Your mom’s smile, your grandpa’s hair, and your dad’s substance use disorder? New research on gene receptors suggests that the risk for addiction may be genetic.
Genetic research studies “tiny differences in a person’s DNA – termed single-nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs. These SNPs can indicate whether you have a higher or lower risk for addiction,” according to The Conversation. Epigenetics, the science of how DNA code is regulated, is revealing new information about the genetic causes of addiction.
From a therapeutic standpoint, this is valuable information. What if we could identify a predisposition to substance use disorder long before active addiction affected the person? We could potentially protect future generations from the consequences of untreated substance use disorder, like the drug epidemic our nation is currently experiencing.
New ideas about gene therapy, screening, and the role of genetic factors in illness are being applied to substance use disorder, with interesting outcomes.
Some people have an opioid receptor gene with a single building block change that protects them against substance dependence in general and opioid dependence in particular. That means they’re less likely to develop an addiction to opioids like heroin or fentanyl. There are also variations in genes for three different dopamine receptors that are linked to increased risk for opioid addiction. The way the molecules in a person’s brain are coded to signal pleasure can determine whether or not they’ll develop an addiction to the substance the brain “likes.”
Those dopamine codes are passed on within family generations. The Conversation described how scientists tested this phenomenon:
“Exposure to drugs like opioids can cause significant epigenetic changes across generations. In one study, we gave opioids to a group of female rats for just 10 days during adolescence, while another group of female rats didn’t receive any. The rats then remained drug-free until adulthood. The children of the rats who received opioids were actually less susceptible to opioid addiction. In tests, they were not willing to search as hard for opioids and found opioids less rewarding. In addition, the brains of these offspring – and their offspring – expressed genes differently from their peers.”
The parents’ experiences changed the way cells in their children read their DNA code. This lessened the children’s susceptibility to addiction and helped them adapt to a world with opioids.
We see this phenomenon in people, too: “Early research suggests that people born into a culture of drug use may be more inclined to get and stay sober. While still unclear, epigenetics may play a role.” That means that, if your parents are in recovery, you’re likely to be averse to addictive substances. There may be environmental factors at work, too: seeing a parent struggle to get sober, or seeing the consequences of substance use disorder affect a loved one could also affect whether substances are appealing.
Understanding how “nature” and “nurture” contribute to, influence, or even cause addiction may be key to unlocking new treatment methods for the future. Knowledge is power, and as we educate ourselves about substance use disorder, we create more possibilities for recovery.